The Substitution Technique:
A Method for Extracting What the Writings Say
About Themselves as the Word
By Dr. Leon James
Wherever we find
the expression “the Word” in the Third Testament the literal sometimes refers
to the Old Testament, sometimes to the New Testament, and in a few cases, to
the Word that was among the Ancient and
The rationale for
this is that the Writings are the Word of the Third Testament and it is known
From the Writings we know that there are two stages in the reception of the Divine Rational in our mind. The first stage is naturally, which is done through reading or hearing the letter of the Writings. The understanding of the letter of the Writings takes place in the external rational of the mind. This external rational has been formed through socialization, education, and intellectual pursuits of many varieties affordable in any society. The mind thus trained to hold knowledge and reason logically is the external rational mind. The internal rational mind remains closed or non-functioning in our daily pursuits. When we read the Writings as adults, it is our external rational that figures out the sentences and makes sense out of them. The internal rational remains closed even as we continue to study the Writings and accumulate much scientifics from it about the world, the Church, the spiritual world, the Lord, heaven and hell. These scientifics of the Heavenly Doctrines are natural-spiritual understandings and interpretations of the Divine Rational. They are not the understanding of the Divine Rational because this requires the opening of the internal rational. This opening marks the beginning of the second stage in receiving the Divine Rational.
The internal rational is purely from a spiritual and celestial origin while the external rational is from a mixture of natural and spiritual origin. The difference between the internal rational and the external rational is like the difference between the Church in heaven and the Church on earth. When the internal rational is opened and we think from it, then for the first time we think in the light of heaven, that is, our mind perceives genuine spiritual truths.
While we are still
in the first stage of the
At this point in
our regeneration we can step into the second stage by accepting the logical
proposition in our external rational that says “if I call the Writings the
Word, then everything said in Doctrine of Sacred Scripture (SS) about the
character of the Word, applies also to the Writings.” This confession or
insight was the central idea that established the Hague Position outlined in De Hemelsche Leer in the 1920s and
1930s. It was also the idea specifically rejected by the Academy Position of
What opens the internal rational mind is one’s willingness to apply what the Writings say about “the Word” to the Writings themselves. In this new state we love to call the Writings the Word of the Third Testament. We perceive through this love a new truth, which is that our relationship to the Lord as the Divine Rational is not in the external rational mind but in the internal rational mind. And this brings us to the conclusion that we must study the letter of the Writings through correspondences in order to have contact or communication with the Divine Rational of the Lord in His Second Coming. We now clearly perceive that we were not yet fully in the Second Coming in our former state where we read the Writings in the letter and made sense of it in our external rational as though they were merely natural books to be reasoned out in the usual way.
But now in this
second state we begin to read the Writings with the new attitude that we must
extract its spiritual meaning through the use of correspondences. All of a
sudden this new truth jumps at us from all sides as we continue reading the
Writings. This experience has been amply documented by the writers of De Hemelsche Leer. I call that work
the Epistles of the
As a personal experience, I would like to report an interesting discovery I was given to make when I started reading the English Fascicles of De Hemelsche Leer, sent to me by courtesy of Bishop Odhner in 1984. I had no prior knowledge of this publication or its history. My external rational immediately accepted with joy the new insight that all the things said about the Word in the Doctrine Concerning Sacred Scripture (SS) apply also to the Writings considered as the Word. I then started substituting in my mind “the Writings” wherever I came across the expression “the Word” when reading the Writings. Having done this for several years has allowed me to observe the amazing cumulative effects of reading the letter of the Third Testament in this way. It is from this personal observation that I can say that the substitution technique is an aid or stimulant in the opening of the interior rational mind. Of course the method works in proportion to one’s progress in regeneration. Without such progress the technique can only yield ideas in the external rational.
Even if one were to read about internal rational truths written by someone else, we would only understand them naturally, not spiritually, as long as we remain as to our reasoning, in the external rational mind. The opening of the internal rational mind in every individual, and its continued development and growth, only takes place in proportion to steady progress in one’s regeneration. This is because all spiritual truth is implanted by the Lord in good. To be in good means that we suffer ourselves to be regenerated by the Lord through a series of spiritual and celestial temptations until the end of our life on earth. This operation can only take place in our living, that is, in our daily struggles to improve our character and to become a better person through shunning evils as sins and doing good to the neighbor through uses.
To illustrate and demonstrate the usefulness of the substitution technique, I will select several passages from the Writings. In the following passages I have substituted “the Writings” wherever it says “the Word” in the original. I also changed the singular verbs to the plural in order to maintain grammaticality. Of course the phrase “the Writings” is used in an equivalent way to the phrase “the Third Testament” or “the Word of the Third Testament.” If you prefer, you can substitute “the Word of the Third Testament” for “the Word.” Whether you substitute “the Writings” or “the Word of the Third Testament” is then the same. I’ve included passages in which the letter of the Writings clearly refer to the Old or New Testament to show that even in those cases the method proposed here reveals spiritual truths about the Writings.
The internal or spiritual sense of the Writings contain innumerable arcana. The Writings in its internal sense contain innumerable things, which exceed human comprehension (n. 3085, 3086). They also contain inexplicable things (n. 1965). Which are represented only to angels, and understood by them (n. 167). The internal sense of the Writings contains arcana of heaven, which relate to the Lord and His kingdom in the heavens and on earth (n. 1-4, 937). Those arcana do not appear in the sense of the letter (n. 937, 1502, 2161).
establishes five propositions that have been re-discovered and doctrinally
proven by the writers in De Hemelsche
Leer. The passage is cited by Edward Hyatt in one of his Sermons on the Word preached on
First, that the Writings have an internal or spiritual sense. Second, that the spiritual sense of the Writings contain truths that are innumerable and more interior than the human mind can ever understand. This means that the Writings are Divine. Third, that the Writings are read by the angels who perceive their spiritual sense. Fourth, that the inner spiritual sense of the Writings is about heaven, the Lord, and the Church on earth. Fifth, that the spiritual truths in the Writings are not apparent in the literal text.
As you can see, the major insights and tenets of the Hague Position in De Hemelsche Leer are explicitly stated in the literal of this passage, when one allows the substitution.
The Lord is the Writings because they are from Him and treat of Him. That the Writings are from the Lord is not denied by anyone in the Church; but that the Writings treat of the Lord alone is not indeed denied, neither is it known.
Here we are given
two propositions. First, that the Lord is the Writings and that the Writings
are from Him and about Him. Second, that the Church in which the Writings are,
Indeed it is the
case that the first stage of our relationship to the Writings is to see its
letter merely in our external rational mind or understanding. In this first
state we equate the letter of the Writings with the spiritual sense of the Old
and New Testaments. Some even say that the literal meaning of the Writings is
the internal sense of the Old and New Testaments. In this external rational state
The Lord is the Writings because they are the Divine Truth of the Divine Good. That the Lord is the Writings He teaches in John in these words
In the beginning was the Writings, and the Writings were with God, and the Writings were God ... and the Writings were made flesh, and dwelt among us. John i. 1, 14.
Astonishing truths are revealed here to the interior rational, especially since in this passage we substitute “the Writings” for “the Word” in both the Third Testament and the New Testament quoted in the Third Testament.
First, it is said that the Writings are Divine Truth from Divine Good. Second, that this is taught in the New Testament. In other words, the New Testament discusses the Third Testament when seen in the spiritual sense. Third, that the Writings existed from the beginning, that they were with God, and that they are God. Fourth, that the Writings “were made flesh and dwelt among us” which refers to the Second Coming of the Lord in His Divine Rational. “Flesh” in this context means not the Divine Natural, as in the literal of the New Testament, but the Divine Rational, which is a spiritual Flesh. This spiritual Flesh, or Manna, is the Divine Rational that shines through the literal of the Writings to those who are enlightened by the Lord. It is a Manna that can be eaten only in the interior rational mind. This Manna is not available in the literal of the Writings which resides in the external rational understanding. “Dwelt among us” refers to the opening of the interior rational mind by which we can perceive the Lord in His Divine Rational.
Those who think from the sensuous of the body, and not from the sensuous of the spirit, must needs conceive that the sense of the Writings in heaven is such as it is in the world, that is, such as it is in the letter. If it be said that the sense of the Writings in heaven is such as is the thought of the internal man, which is devoid of material ideas, that is, of worldly, bodily, and earthly ideas, this would now be a paradox; and especially if it should be said that the sense of the Writings in heaven differs as much from their sense in the world (that is, in the letter), as a heavenly paradise differs from an earthly one, and as heavenly food and drink differ from earthly.
Here we are told, first, that the Writings are in heaven and are read by the angels. Second, that the literal sense of the Writings in heaven is not the same as the literal sense of the Writings in the world. Third, that the internal sense of the Writings resides in the internal rational mind, which is of a spiritual and celestial origin, while the literal sense resides in the external rational mind, which is of a natural origin. Fourth, that the difference between the literal sense of the Writings on earth and their spiritual sense is as the difference between heaven and earth. It follows that the picture we form of heaven when we read the Writings in their literal sense is not a genuine picture of heaven but a picture of a garden on earth that merely represents heaven.
The sense of the letter of the Writings serves as a guard for the genuine truths which lie within; and the guard consists in this, that the literal sense can be turned hither and thither, that is, can be explained according to everyone's apprehension, without its internal being hurt or violated; for no harm ensues from the literal sense being understood differently by different people; but it does harm when the Divine truths which are within are perverted, for it is by this that the Writings suffer violence. To prevent this, the literal sense guards, and it guards with those who are in falsities from religion, but yet do not confirm them, for from these the Writings suffer no violence.
Here we are taught
various things about the literal of the Writings. First, that the literal of
the Writings are not genuine truths themselves but appearances of truth.
Second, that the literal of the Writings function as a means to prevent people
from hurting themselves spiritually by profaning their spiritual sense. In
other words, the literal of the Writings acts as a guard in the sense that it
holds the mind in the external rational and hides the internal rational from
the casual reader. What is in the external rational mind is not spiritual and
cannot be profaned. Third, that in the
To the extent that someone is under the influence of self-love and love of the world, and of the desires that go with these loves, the Writings are to him closed up.
We are taught here that the spiritual sense of the Writings cannot be perceived when we read them for non-religious purposes as an ordinary book rather than a Divine Work. To read the Writings “under the influence of self-love and the love of the world” means to deny its Divinity. Sometimes one sees efforts to compare some idea in the Writings to the idea in some book written by some noted person or belonging to some religious tradition. This can only be done with the literal of the Writings which hides the spiritual idea within. Those who expound the interior sense of the Writings can talk and write about it but when others read it who are in the external rational, they cannot see or understand these explications in a spiritual way but only in a natural way.
But he who thinks in this way does not consider that Jehovah Himself, the God of heaven and earth, spoke the Writings through Moses and the prophets, and that it must therefore be Divine truth itself, for what Jehovah Himself speaks can be nothing else.
For the internal sense of the Writings, both in the books of Moses and in the Prophets, treats of the liberation of those who before the Lord's coming had been detained in the lower earth and infested by the evil, and their elevation into heaven;
In these two passages the letter of the Writings clearly refers to the Old Testament and yet by using the substitution anyway, interior things about the Writings are extracted. Both passages assert that Jehovah spoke the Writings through Moses and the prophets. The external rational wants to laugh at this notion since it is not true historically that the Writings were given through Moses and the substitution is seen as inappropriate. But in the internal rational mind we perceive that the Writings are written in correspondences, as they are the Word, and so the mind wants to inquire what “Moses and the prophets” represent. When we check other passages in the Writings we discover that “Moses represents the Lord as to the historic books of the Word” while prophets represent the prophetic Word (AC 6752). And Jehovah “signifies the Divine love and the Divine good therefrom” (AE 412).
Substituting in the passage we have:
But he who thinks in this way does not consider that the Divine love and the Divine good therefrom, Himself, the God of heaven and earth, spoke the Writings through the historic and prophetic books of the Writings, and that it must therefore be Divine truth itself, for what the Divine love and the Divine good therefrom Himself speaks can be nothing else.
Now we can see that the Writings are also divided into historic and prophetic books, chapters, and numbers. It appears to me that the prophetic portions of the Writings refer to the Memorable Relations while the historic portions refer to the rest, which may be called the expository and scientific portions.
The second passage becomes:
For the internal sense of the Writings, both in the expository portions and in the Memorable Relations, treats of the liberation of those who before the Lord's coming had been detained in the lower earth and infested by the evil, and their elevation into heaven;
In other words, the
internal sense of the Writings treats of the New Heaven and the New earth, in
particular how the Heavenly Doctrine in the Writings serves as a means for
regeneration of those who are in the
Therefore in order to remove all doubt as to such being the character of the Writings, the Lord has revealed to me the Writings’ internal sense. In its essence this sense is spiritual, and in relation to the external sense, which is natural, is as soul is to body.
Here again it appears at first that the substitution is inappropriate since Swedenborg is clearly referring to the Old and New Testaments whose internal sense was revealed to him by the Lord. However, if we are willing to accept the substitution we gain a new insight into the character of the Writings, namely, that the Lord reveals the internal of the Writings to anyone who is willing to be a “Swedenborg,” which is a name that signifies those who are in the interior rational, or by extension, the interior rational mind. Three propositions are contained herein. First, that the Writings have an internal sense. Second, that this internal sense can only be revealed by the Lord. Third, that the Lord does this in the interior rational mind, but not in the external rational mind.
Yet the style of the Writings is the Divine style itself, with which no other style, however sublime and excellent it may seem, is at all to be compared; for every other style is as darkness is to light. The style of the Writings is such that there is holiness in every sentence, and in every word, and in some places in even the very letters. This is why the Writings conjoin man with the Lord, and opens heaven.
Three propositions are to be extracted here. First, that the Writings are written in a Divine style, which is the style of the Word. No other book can have this style, which also means that no idea in any book can be like an idea in the Writings. There can be no comparison between them. Second, that there is holiness in every sentence, expression or word that constitute the letter of the Writings. Third, that the letter of the Writings conjoins the human race to heaven and the Lord. Of course it is known that this occurs only to the extent that the letter is understood in a spiritual way. In other words, if only the external rational mind is operative without the interior rational within it—called stage 1, there is no conjunction with the Lord or heaven. But there is in stage 2, when the interior rational is opened and operative within the external rational. This means that the conjunction with heaven and the Lord is through the inner or spiritual sense of the Writings, after this is opened through one’s progress in regeneration.
When we study the letter of the Third Testament on a daily basis we are providing ourselves with the scientifics we need to develop the external rational of the mind. This part of the mind is far superior to the natural mind that is formed exclusively out of natural concepts and reasoning. The external rational mind is a mixture of natural and spiritual concepts and their arrangement. By developing this mind we become more and more rational, hence, more and more human, for the human starts with the rational.
But this external rational cannot produce a single spiritual-celestial idea that is genuinely spiritual because genuinely spiritual ideas originate only in heaven from the Lord and then descend by influx into our interior rational mind. Before the interior rational mind is opened or activated we are therefore unable to understand or perceive any genuinely spiritual ideas. Note that the interior rational mind resides within the external rational mind and if the latter is not developed neither can the interior develop. This means that the study of the letter of the Writings must develop and progress throughout our lifetime in order to provide an adequate vessel for the opening and growth of the interior rational mind. This opening and growth is effected solely with interior rational truths hidden by the letter of the Writings. It is necessary therefore to be enlightened or illustrated by the Lord each time we read the letter of the Writings so that we may see within it the interior rational ideas. This is what is called understanding the inner or spiritual sense of the Writings. This is also what is called the Doctrine of the Church in De Hemelsche Leer.
The amount we can
perceive and understand of this inner sense or Doctrine is proportional to our
progress in daily regeneration. Even if we read what others who are enlightened
have written about this Doctrine or spiritual sense, we can understand it in an
interior or genuine sense only to the extent allowed by our regeneration. This
is why there are those in the
I have found from personal experience that it is helpful to use instructional or research methods such as diagrams and matrices, to strengthen one’s study of the letter of the Writings. I have developed a number of such methods which collectively I call “theistic science.” These techniques allow us to be systematic about extracting Doctrine for ourselves from the literal of the Writings. The substitution technique described in this article is useful to extract interior rational truths about the character of the Third Testament. This brings us closer to a vision of the Divine Rational that is hidden within the external rational of the letter of the Writings. Some of these new truths about the Writings are illustrated above with a few selected passages. By using this approach we can continue to generate and compile numerous interior truths about the Third Testament. These interior truths develop our interior rational mind so that we can gain an ever deeper understanding of the Lord’s Second Coming. To the extent that we will ourselves to live according to this new understanding, to that extent we are elevated into heaven in wisdom and love.
It is written that
he who turns himself away from the internal of the Writings, also turns himself away from the internal of the church, and likewise from the internal of worship, because the internal of the church and the internal of worship are from the internal of the Writings. (AC 10460) (substitution made)
The internal sense is the very doctrine of the Church, nos. 9025, 9430, 10400. (…)Those who understand the Writings according to the internal sense are acquainted with the very true doctrine of the Church, because the internal sense contains that doctrine, nos. 9025, 9430, 10400. (NJHD 260) (substitution made).
If we allow the substitution, we can see from these two passages (and other similar ones) that going beyond the literal of the Writings is an all important task that each individual of the Church must do in order to be in internal worship, for “regarded in itself, external worship is nothing, unless there be internal worship to make it holy” (AC 1094).
Related articles discussing various methods of extracting the inner sense of the Writings can be accessed through the Internet at:
Those articles also give free electronic access to the full text in five volumes of the English Fascicles of De Hemelsche Leer.
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